Polk State Art students, faculty create Winter Haven Hospital mural

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Nearly 150 hours, 18 gallons of paint, and the talent and creativity of seven students later, patients at BayCare Winter Haven Hospital’s Behavioral Health Center have an impressive 81-by-14-foot mural to enjoy and utilize as a form of art therapy.

Winter Haven Hospital and Polk State College leadership honored the students and Professor of Art Holly Scoggins in May during an unveiling of the mural.

“Our behavioral health recreation area had a large white wall with metal on the top that was starting to rust in the Florida heat. We thought, ‘Why go out to a commercial company when we have such a great relationship with Polk State College?’ We do so much work together on the healthcare side,” said Winter Haven Hospital President Tom Garthwaite.

“Professor Holly Scoggins came out with a wonderfully positive attitude and a can-do vision. I showed her the wall and her eyes got pretty big because many murals seem to be 20 or 30 feet. Well, our wall is 81-by-41 feet. She looked at it and said, ‘We can make this happen.’”

Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti expressed gratitude for the students, faculty, and partnership with Winter Haven Hospital.

“Thank you for bringing this vision forward,” she said. “Any time Polk State College has the opportunity to partner with an organization to help advance our community…, it’s a gift.”

It was truly a team effort that the students embraced. As part of the class, students are required to work on the mural four hours a week; however, most weeks they spent up to 12 hours on the project and they even continued their work after the semester had officially ended.

Scoggins shared how the process of working with hospital executives provided students with real-world experience that prepares them for careers in the arts.

“We talked about how the space was going to be used and what the function of the mural was – that it wasn’t just a place to make a big painting, but it was a place to engage the client,” Scoggins said. “Public art pieces should engage the public or clients. The Winter Haven Hospital mural is exciting because it’s not just a pretty nature landscape to look at, it’s a meditative interactive mural that the clients can participate with.”

“This experience is unique because the students are not just making their own art better, but they are also working with the public They’re working back and forth with a client to make sure that the client’s pleased, but they are also learning how to buy supplies, how to carry the supplies around from place to place, how to mix color, how to safely paint on a ladder,” she explained. “This class is very physical, it’s very community-oriented, and it provides practical knowledge so that when they leave, they can do this on their own.”

The process began in January with each student submitting two design proposals for the Winter Haven Hospital wall.


‘Implications and Understanding’

Abigail Estamponi’s design was selected, and the team got to work, with paint hitting the wall in early February.

“Every artist’s design that was born was fascinating and gorgeous. When I was told that it was my design that was picked for the hospital wall, flattered would be an understatement. Honored fits perfectly,” Estamponi expressed during the mural unveiling.

Titled “Implications and Understanding,’ Estamponi’s design strives for observers to feel understood, she explained.

“‘Implication’ is defined as ‘a conclusion that can be drawn, although it is not explicitly stated,’” she said. “To understand is to know, or to say, ‘I get it.’ Sometimes when there are feelings too big for our words [to] comprehend, all we need is for someone to look at us and say ‘I get it’ – to feel understood without having to work for it.”

“I wanted to give the audience a feeling that was not to be explicitly stated but completely understood,” she added. “Inviting, tranquil, and triumphant were the words I had in mind when creating. We chose a horizontal landscape so that the audience can feel it as a part of their world, as though they could lie down amongst the flowers and gaze at the mountains.”

A red ribbon woven through the design serves as a labyrinth that those who interact with the mural can run their fingers along as a form of meditation.

The Winter Haven Hospital mural is only accessible by hospital staff and patients; however, the mural class did complete a second mural in downtown Winter Haven, designed by student Tori Cunningham, near the water tower that is open to the public to enjoy.

“We’ve faced some really cool challenges that have really grown us as artists and have given us some amazing real-world experience,” Estamponi said. “Professor Holly Scoggins has helped us make sure we feel confident in what we are doing, giving us help along the way.”

Something bigger than ‘us’

The murals created by the spring class are literally – and figuratively – “bigger” than the artists themselves, both Estamponi and Scoggins explained, noting the transformational impact the experience has had on each artist independently and as a team.

“It’s not about me and making art that follows the objective rules we have set about what makes art successful or unsuccessful in the classroom,” Scoggins said. “This goes beyond that because you are having to marry making a good work of art with pleasing the public and fitting the function of what needs to happen with a mural.”

Estamponi echoed this sentiment.

“The dedication of this team was extraordinary,” she said. “We all climbed ladders too high, lied in the dirt too long, and shared plenty of sunscreen. It was hot – we all have the farmer’s tan to prove it. But the heat of the sun disappeared from our senses when we remembered we were a team using our different skills to make something bigger than us.”

“This opportunity, if not just for myself, has been life-changing,” Estamponi expressed. “I know what I want to do now. Art and health go hand in hand; we each hope you feel something, not explicitly stated but understood in your soul.”

Polk State College will be offering the mural course in spring 2025. Students who are interested in the class and/or The Arts Program may email Professor Scoggins at hscoggins@polk.edu.